Monday, April 24, 2017

Two black people on the Titanic in fact and a third in folklore

The Titanic had at least two black passengers, and more if you count one passenger's children.

The story of Joseph Laroche is in Was a Black Man on the Titanic? His white wife and their daughters were saved. He was not. Don't blame race for his death—many of the men stayed behind so more of the women and children could survive.

There's some debate about whether the Laroches endured racism on board the ship. From Black People and Titanic: The Reality – Dani Course – Medium:
...a letter that Juliette wrote to her father while the Titanic was at Queenstown, Ireland, paints a different picture. She did not mention any racially motivated incidents directed at her or her family. In fact, she wrote that they had become acquainted with another French family, whom they had traveled from Paris with on the train and dined with onboard the ship. She also wrote that “the people onboard are very nice.” It should be kept in mind, however, that when Juliette Laroche wrote her letter, she and her family had been aboard the ship for less than 24 hours. They would spend four more days at sea — plenty of time to experience the conditions outlined by Hughes and the Inquirer.
The Laroches were well-off; the Medium article includes this:
Initially, the family was to travel on the French liner La France, however the liner’s strict policy required children to remain in the ship’s nursery during meal times, which didn’t appeal to the Laroches. They exchanged their first-class tickets for second-class tickets on the Titanic.
The second black passenger, Victor Giglio, travelled first class. He was the personal secretary to Benjamin Guggenheim. The two men, it's said, chose to die like gentlemen, drinking brandy together. In Titanic Anniversary Sheds Light On Passengers Of Color: Who Were They?, the writer suggests Giglio wouldn't have been able to get a place on a lifeboat because of the color of his skin, but since rich white men also couldn't get seats, it's impossible to guess whether class would've trumped race in a choice between a white third-class passenger and a black first-class one.

The Titanic had a mythical crewman called Shine who, in folk hero fashion, swam all the way to New York. There's more about him in Was a Black Man on the Titanic?

Leadbelly wrote a song that claims the boxer Jack Johnson couldn't get a ticket, which isn't true, but makes for a fine song:

Lead Belly:The Titanic Lyrics | LyricWikia 

Monday, April 17, 2017

An article to cite when you want to show Fox News, the Mirror, and the Daily Mail are unreliable

Media fooled by fake news item about married twins:
While more reputable sites like the New York Times or Washington Post don’t appear to be running with this nonsense story, many other widely read news outlets like the Mirror and the Daily Mail ran with it. Even Fox News ran a Sun article on their site.
Of course, this doesn't mean the Times or the Post are reliable either. No site is perfect, and they all are subject to spinning the facts to fit their ideologies. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

On Charging Bull and Fearless Girl, and the ethics of creators

Re: 'Charging Bull' sculptor says New York's 'Fearless Girl' statue violates his rights | US news | The Guardian

Putting Fearless Girl in front of Charging Bull made a clever mash-up, but as a creator, I have more sympathy for Charging Bull's artist than many seem to. He made a great piece of art. Then another artist came along and placed her work where it made his subordinate to hers. Would you put a beautifully carved statue of a TV near the Mona Lisa so it looked like she was smiling at it?

This reminds me that ethical graffiti artists don't paint over other artists' work.

I grant that people who love this want a more diverse Wall Street, while I want an end to Wall Street. They want a Girl who will join the Bull. I want a kid who will kill it.

ETA: Fearless Girl? She looks like she’s auditioning for a TV talent show | Emma Brockes | Opinion | The Guardian:
Since being placed opposite the bull, on the eve of International Women’s Day, the Fearless Girl – hands on hips, ponytail swinging – has been the subject of a million concerned pieces about the misuse of art, the infantilisation of female ambition, and the kind of fraudulent feminism that promises little girls, if they work hard, they can grow up to be bankers.
ETA: ‘Fearless Girl’ and ‘Charging Bull’ are more alike than you’d think - The Washington Post:
"...the multitrillion-dollar financial firm that commissioned and installed “Fearless Girl” still has only three women on its 11-member board.

...The strain of female success that “Fearless Girl” champions most specifically — More women in the boardroom! More women on Wall Street! More women at the top! — is also the one most aligned with the capitalism-loving, individualistic ethos of the bull itself."
ETA: seriously, the guy has a point | 

Monday, April 10, 2017

A farewell to politics on this blog

One of my favorite pieces of advice is Rilke's "You must change your life." It's always true, but it's harder to do with every day that passes.

So I'm changing my blog instead.

Because my definition of politics is quirky, I can't guarantee there won't be anything after this that you would consider politics. I have always loved Robin Williams' definition:
Politics: “Poli” a Latin word meaning "many" and "tics" meaning "bloodsucking creatures".
The true origin:
from Greek politikos, from politēs ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’
Its roots remind me of those of civility:
from Latin civilitas, from civilis ‘relating to citizens’ (see civil). In early use the term denoted the state of being a citizen and hence good citizenship or orderly behavior. The sense ‘politeness’ arose in the mid 16th century.
If I address anything after this on this blog that seems particularly political, I'll do it in art. If I can't do it in art, I'll indulge in a rant at my retitled blog that had focused on identitarianism, Engaging Justice.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The campfire scene: the heart of every team movie and the greatest weakness of Rogue One

The campfire scene gets its name from stories in which people on a journey stop for a meal and have nothing to do but talk. Campfire scenes reveal character, both to the audience and to the other characters. They give the members of a new team a chance to bond. They make us believe a story is about individuals rather than archetypes. The campfire scene is to a story about a team what the falling in love scene is to a romance: it makes us want to see the characters succeed.

Rogue One would've been much better with a campfire scene. There might be one on the cutting room floor—one character calls another "little sister", which only makes sense if they'd had time to form a bond. There were plenty of opportunities for campfire scenes—a story can have many—and yet the few attempts did nothing to convince me that any of the team members came to care for anyone they had not already cared for, except the guy in charge of the mission, who apparently liked the hero because she was of the desired sex and reasonably competent.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Karl Marx—explicitly anti-sexist and anti-racist in 1880

Marx wrote the preamble of Programme of the French Worker's Party in 1880. The first clause makes explicit what's implicit in his earlier work:

That the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex or race;

That the producers can be free only when they are in possession of the means of production;

That there are only two forms under which the means of production can belong to them
  1. The individual form which has never existed in a general state and which is increasingly eliminated by industrial progress;
  2. The collective form the material and intellectual elements of which are constituted by the very development of capitalist society;

That this collective appropriation can arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat - organized in a distinct political party;

That such an organization must be pursued by all the means the proletariat has at its disposal including universal suffrage which will thus be transformed from the instrument of deception that it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation;

The French socialist workers, in adopting as the aim of their efforts the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to community of all the means of production, have decided, as a means of organization and struggle, to enter the elections...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Shetterly's Iron Fist guide—which episodes to skip for a better overall experience

Iron Fist's greatest problem is the writing, which means you have to blame Scott Buck, the show runner. There's enough material for a good eight episodes, but it's stretched out for thirteen. A dedicated fan editor could probably create a strong version, but since that fanvid doesn't exist, I suggest you do the following:

Watch the first two episodes. Then you have two choices:

a) If you decide you only want to know what would be useful when The Defenders airs, skip to the end and watch episodes 11 through 13.

b) If you like but don't love the first two episodes and trust me that the series is longer than it should be, watch episodes 3, 5, 8, and 10-13. (Warning: episode three ends with a cliffhanger, but its resolution is so weak that I think it's fine to skip episode four.)

If you take either of my suggestions, you can fill in the plot gaps with Wikipedia's episode summaries here: Iron Fist (TV series). Or you can just trust that you'll figure out what you need to know as you go along.

Related: What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian

ETA: More in the comments, but it may get a bit spoilery.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Three and a half things I believe about writing and "cultural appropriation"

1. "Write what you know" means you should research the things you don't know, and you should research the things you think you know. When we get facts wrong, that's on us.

2. Readers have prejudices. Some readers out of ignorance or ideology or both will accuse writers of getting things wrong that we have actually gotten right. That's on them, not us.

3. Every culture appropriates. The term comes from anthropology, where it was used to describe a process without implying it was good or bad. The rule for cultures is appropriate or die.

3.5 The artist's duty is to appropriate wisely and inventively. That's how art grows.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Using Jessica Valenti to rant about Clinton feminists, and a question about all men

A friend on Facebook shared Trump did to Merkel what men do to women all the time | Jessica Valenti, which has the subhead, "Men constantly ignore women – but most of the time no one notices it. Except, that is, when it happens on the world stage."

So I've got a question and a rant.

The question: Do all men do this? Note that Valenti's claims are not qualified: she says, "men constantly" do this, a statement as absolute as "black people constantly" or "Muslims constantly" do something.

Also note that Valenti's opinion piece is backed up with nothing but a few anecdotes and a description of an episode of a TV show.

To be clear, I'm not denying a lot of men do this. In hierarchies, people at the top tend to be dismissive of the people they see as subordinate. Jane Austen's Lady Catherine de Bourgh is one woman's testimony that this is not inherently a gender issue. Men who believe in a sexual hierarchy naturally dismiss women.

But Valenti's statement is not about "some men". She uses Trump's encounter with Merkel to make a claim about all men. And she's using a situation where Trump, a xenophobic conservative, is meeting with Merkel, a foreign liberal, so gender is not the only issue at work in her example, for all that Valenti insists it is.

Whether Valenti consciously downplays other factors, I don't know. I do know she's a Clinton feminist who's named in Leaked Email Reveals Sady Doyle, Other Liberal Bloggers Coordinated with Clinton Campaign on Sanders Hits. Clinton feminists are, intentionally or not, very simplistic in their approach to feminism—for example, they don't care that the poor are disproportionately female; they backed the neoliberal woman instead of the man who fights for a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, and free public higher education, all of which would disproportionately help women.

Clinton feminists cannot grasp the Nigerian proverb,
When the axe came into the forest, the trees said "The handle is one of us"
The reason is simple. Clinton feminists do not identify with the trees. They identify with the axe.

Related: Study: Men interrupt women more in tech workplaces, but high-ranking women learn to interrupt includes this:
Not only do these three women interrupt everyone, gender- and level-agnostic, they represent three of the four biggest interrupters in the study. Their rates of interruption/hour are, respectively, 35, 34, and 32, with one male colleague in Level E coming in at 34 and literally everyone else in every level showing a lower rate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian

I get why some fans wish Iron Fist or Dr. Strange had been Asian. If no one else had argued they should be, I probably would have. Old comic books have no shortage of white male heroes.


Let's be the best sort of conservatives and ask what's lost by making those characters Asian.

The quick answer: everything interesting.

1. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange find purpose in a culture that is not their own. The message: we do not have to restrict our learning to the culture associated with our race. We may find greater truths in other cultures than in our own.

2. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange are outsiders who struggle to fit into a new culture and are eventually accepted by most of its members. The message: we do not have to "keep to our own kind." We can find friends and lovers anywhere.

3. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange come from a culture where people who are superficially like them tend to rule, but they accept masters who are not white. The message: we should serve the best people of any race rather than the best people of our own.

Now, as a long-time fan of Hong Kong cinema, I would've loved having the contemporary equivalent of Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, or Jackie Chan playing Iron Fist and the contemporary equivalent of Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, or Maggie Cheung playing Dr. Strange.

But they would be playing Asian stereotypes. They might be playing great versions of stereotypes in movies I would watch many times, but they would be stereotypes none the less.

A more interesting change would be to make the characters black Americans. But that would also lose something. With white protagonists, the stories of Iron Fist and Dr. Strange imply great truths can be learned from people who are not white. With black protagonists, their story would imply great truths can be learned from people who are not black, an implication that would not necessarily be racist, but easily could be.

Mind you, I'm not saying Hollywood had to make the characters white men. My idea of the essence of a character is rarely defined by race or gender—the exceptions being characters like Captain America who are tied to a historical period in which a particular race and gender are logical. In the 1970s, I wished I could write a Legion of Super-Heroes story in which it was revealed that the heroes of the 30th Century had up until then appeared to be mostly white and male because that was a fad, but now the fad had passed, so they were reverting to the bodies they were born in, which would've created a Legion that was 50% female and very racially mixed. In the 1980s, I wished the British Avengers remake had cast Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh as Steed and Peel. I love creative recasting in general—who doesn't love Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury?

But changes have consequences. You must always know what you lose when you make them.

That said, while Tilda Swinton did a fine job as the Ancient One, I still think they should've cast Michelle Yeoh.

ETA: BlackBeltJones On Iron Fist & The Ivory Issue: Is There Really A Problem?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why antiracists misunderstand Hugh Davis "defiling his body in lying with a Negro" in 1630—or the New York Times gets it wrong again

I thought What if the Court in the Loving Case Had Declared Race a False Idea? - The New York Times makes an interesting argument, but Brent Staples bolsters it with a common shallow assumption. I read this:
(In 1630, for example, a man named Hugh Davis was publicly whipped for “defiling his body in lying with a Negro.”)

Colonial-era court records are filled with crimes related to interracial sex and fierce debates about the legal status of children born of interracial unions.
My first thought was that sounded wrong because poor whites and blacks were treated very similarly before Bacon's Rebellion in the 1670s. My second thought was "Why do they think 'Negro' means a woman? The term sounds wrong for the time."

So I went googling and found a surprising number of places interpreting this incident as the Times does. But then I found Abusing Hugh Davis - Determining the Crime in a 17th Century Morality Case (pdf) by historian Alan Scot Willis, who argues convincingly, was different from the usual cases of adultery and fornication because it was, instead, a case of sodomy. Additionally, I argue that such a claim in not mere “conjecture.” We may never be able to establish definitively whether Hugh Davis committed fornication or sodomy, but we can demonstrate that it is more probable he committed sodomy.
Willis compares the case to similar ones that unambiguously involved heterosexual people of different races and notes that the treatment of those couples was very different. He also notes,
The Jamestown Court accused Davis of “lying with a negro” whereas they commonly used the words “Negress” or “Negro wench” in other cases specifying that the unnamed Africans in those cases were, indeed, female. Winthrop Jordan, in White Over Black, explained “the term "negro woman‟ was in very common use.” This led Jordan to speculate that Davis‟ partner “may not have been female.” Richard Godbeer ruminated on that problem in a footnote in his Sexual Revolution in Early America, noting that the “passage refers not to a "negro woman‟ or a "negro wench‟ or "a negress‟ but a "negro‟ suggesting that Davis may have had sexual contact with a male African.”
Humans tend to see what they expect to find. People who wanted to find racism failed to see homophobia.

If you object that sodomy was punished by death then, the answer is "Not in all cases." Willis covers that. His paper is fairly short and well worth reading if history, race, and gender interest you. It includes fascinating incidents like this: 1629 Virginia dealt with what must have been a truly perplexing case of sexual identity. The Court demanded that Thomas Hall declare himself to be either male or female, but Hall maintained he was both. The Court, in disagreement with Hall‟s master, came to the rather ambiguous determination that Hall must present himself as both male 6 female; He was ordered to wear men's clothing but also an apron and to have his hair coiffed as a woman's. Yet it reached the decision only after two bodily inspections had resulted in contradictory findings.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Politics as Secular Religion: Special "Understanding Liberal Democrats" Edition

I made two comments on Facebook about liberal Democrats (meaning members of the US's quasi-Democratic Party) that apply to most people in large political parties. Freddie deBoer posted,
Honestly a lot of this liberal Democrat "I fight with the alt-right and I fight with socialists therefore they are the same" delusion comes from this badly misconceived idea of politics as a social circle where you're personally friendly with everyone in your movement, and I'm sorry to say the left isn't great on that score, either.
I said,
You're missing an element: for liberal Democrats, there are sinners and the saved. Why waste time trying to understand the damned?
To continue the analogy, to liberal Democrats, conservatives are infidels and the left are heretics. Heretics are more infuriating than infidels.
Always relevant when discussing the political impulse: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

ETA: If this feels like I'm picking on liberals, that's only the context. No group is exempt. Politics is just a secular religion. You get both from your family and your community in most cases, and in reaction to your family and community in a few. Either way, it's more about what makes you feel good about yourself than what's good for others. Preachers, politicians, and nondenominational scam artists understand this.

Guest post: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

Everyone should read this, so I'm making it easy. I got this copy from Mark Twain: Corn-pone Opinions and corrected a few minor typos.

Corn-pone Opinions
Mark Twain

FIFTY YEARS AGO, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping to inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man—a slave—who daily preached sermons from the top of his master's woodpile, with me for sole audience. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from. But it did not happen; in the distribution of rewards he was overlooked. It is the way, in this world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Naming the four waves of social justice

1. The Catholic Wave

"Social justice" began as a Catholic concept developed in the 1840s by Father Luigi Tapparelli as an alternative to democracy and communism. Its earliest concept was a Catholic version of noblesse oblige: everyone should respect God's social hierarchy, but the rich should treat poorer people with respect and help them with charity.

In the 1930s, the antisemitic Father Charles Coughlin created the National Union for Social Justice and published a periodical titled Social Justice that attacked Jews, atheists, and Communists as the enemies of God. But Coughlin did not destroy the reputation of "social justice". Good Catholics like Dorothy Day and Father Dom Helder Camara worked hard to help the poor under that label.

This wave continues with Catholicism to the present day.

2. The Interdenominational Wave

During the 20th century, the idea of social justice spread from the Catholicism to Protestantism and Judaism. The phrase was not common in the civil rights era because it was still primarily a theological concept, but the focus in this wave began expanding from poverty to racial and gender inequality.

3. The Identitarian Wave

The term moved into the secular community in the 1980s as an umbrella term for third wave feminism and antiracism. As it did, the original concern with poverty was subordinated to focus on social inequality. And as that happened, the idea that everyone should be treated with respect was lost. Though many of them were atheists, the third wave's "social justice warriors" mocked and abused their opponents like Crusaders mocking heretics.

4.  The Democratic Socialist Wave

The millennials  saw that economic and social justice are entwined. This wave is so new that its differences with the third wave didn't become obvious until Clinton Democrats began trying to suppress Sanders Democrats. It's too early to know what form the fourth wave will take, but I'm optimistic. The kids are the future, no matter how hard the third wave works to defeat them.

Related: Naming the four waves of fighting racism and sexism

ETA: On Facebook, I was asked if we're now in the Antifa Wave. I answered,
It's hard for me to categorize Antifa because they're intellectually a mess, so far as I can tell. They're angry, they have no respect for their opponents, and there's obsessed with symbolic rather than practical matters, so I hope they're the last gasp of the third wave.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Free speech, not street violence, ended Milo Yiannopoulos's career

At A Statement On Yiannopoulos and the Berkeley Protests, Ander told Steve Brust,
I like your article, it was written thoughtfully and I’m happy to know you’re out there fighting for democractic socialism.
MILO’s platform is ethnic cleansing. His LED billboard at the event read “Support Women and Homosexuals, Purge Your Local Illegals” and listed ICE’s phone number.
He wanted to use federal forces to violently detain and deport our communities, so we shut him down by any means necessary. Not all events will look like what happened at Berkley, but it definitely isn’t a bad thing to have some collectives practicing black bloc tactics.
I said,
Ander, there are two issues here.
Are Milo’s views reprehensible? Yes.
Do you want to promote his views by making him more famous? I would hope not. Yet by denying him the right to speak, you gave him more attention.
Please note that what seems to have killed his career was not your attempt to silence him, but the attempt by other conservatives to share and denounce his words on sex with young people. The protests in the street only helped him. Free speech ultimately did him in.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A cartoon and a comment about leftists who are friendly and leftists who mock

On Facebook, Jonas Kyratzes shared Things Are Not OK. In the comments, Jay Tholen mentioned his childhood growing up in poor neighborhoods and said,
I was a Limbaugh-listening conservative at 18 and know how completely validating it is to see the liberal mainstream characterize you as a hateful idiot. It entrenched me in my belief that I was fighting against some elite star chamber. The only time I started questioning my political ideologies was when folks from the left befriended me and we had conversations.
A little later, Douglas Lain shared this:

Trotsky has my back on people misunderstanding wars that are called religious

"If this conflict had taken place toward the end of the Middle Ages, both sides in slaughtering each other would have cited the same text from the Bible. Formalist historians would afterwards have come to the conclusion that they were fighting about the correct interpretation of texts. The craftsmen and illiterate peasants of the Middle Ages had a strange passion, as is well known, for allowing themselves to be killed in the cause of philological subtleties in the Revelations of Saint John, just as the Russian Separatists submitted to extermination in order to decide the question whether one should cross himself with two fingers or three. In reality there lies hidden under such symbolic formulae – in the Middle Ages no less than now – a conflict of life interests which we must learn to uncover. The very same verse of the Evangelist meant serfdom for some, freedom for others...Political slogans serve oftener to disguise interests than to call them by name."
-Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution

Via Steve Brust

Thursday, February 23, 2017

the ancient art of making the working class invisible

From A Frank Talk With Jessa Crispin About Why Modern-Day Feminism Is Full of Shit:
There’s that Rebecca Traister book, All the Single Ladies. It’s all about this self-empowerment feminism—like “look at these brave women living their urban lives and chasing their dreams.” She talks about how the city can provide you the spousal care that a wife used to provide her husband—it can cook your food, launder your clothes, blah blah blah. But the city doesn’t do that shit. Immigrants do that shit. You can’t pretend that “the city” is a benevolent creature.
I went to the Google office to visit a friend and talk about fucking safe spaces! They have these little cubbies that practically hug you while you sit there and read. It was very kindergarten. Silicon Valley should be called out on their safe space bullshit more than anyone else. Like, “I need the Google bus because I need wi-fi and tinted windows so I don’t have to look at the homeless people on my way to work.”
That reminded me of a Mexican woman who said, explaining why she had had a maid when she was growing up, "Everyone in Mexico City has a maid."

And this moment in Huckleberry Finn:

“Good gracious! anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A few series that have good places to stop watching before the series actually ends (no spoilers)

This post isn't about shark-jumping, which is when a show has gone on too long. It's about when the important arcs have been resolved, and while what follows may have strong moments, the show is not as satisfying overall.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has two good endings. From a purely esthetic point of view, the third season, when she graduates, has the perfect ending. But the end of season five is also mighty nice.

Deadwood ends well at the end of Season Two.

Veronica Mars ends well at the end of the first season. An argument could be made that if you like the first season as much as I did and want more, you should skip the next two seasons and watch the reunion movie.

The Matrix should never have had sequels.

Any to add? If you want to get spoilery in the comments, just say so before you reveal anything major.

Monday, February 20, 2017

On Milo Yiannopoulos and Samuel R. Delany, and why child pornography is a real crime, not a thought crime

Yiannopoulos and Delany have similar histories, but because their politics are different, some defenders of one will attack the other for his sexual views.

Delany talked about his past here: a conversation with Samuel R. Delany about NAMBLA, sexuality, and consent.

Yiannopoulos has responded to his critics here: Milo Yiannopoulos.

So far as I know, they both respect our current laws. For me, that's sufficient—if fantasies were grounds for imprisonment, who would be free? People write about a great many things that disgust me, but so long as it's clear they don't plan to force their fantasies on anyone, I'm content that their work exists because I don't have to read it.

This has me thinking about thought crimes—I oppose hate crime laws because I think motives don't matter, only intent and deeds do. But that reasoning gets murky when dealing with recordings: should owners of child pornography be punished simply for owning material that depicts illegal activity?

My answer is yes. The recordings are the products of a crime, so their owners are in the same category as owners of stolen property—they are enablers of the crime. The owners of illegal property may be even more guilty than the people who committed the initial crime—the essential question is whether the initial crime would have been committed if a market for its result did not exist.

ETA: Yes, I also think people who hire killers are at least as guilty as the killer. Money has killed more people than bombs or bullets have.

"Privilege" has been neoliberalized and "inequality" is next

The Ford Foundation made a vapid video that discusses inequality in identitarian terms, focusing on race and gender almost exclusively. Doug Henwood shared it on Facebook, where Michael Pollak left this comment:
...I'm sorry that this seems to make obsolete Branko Milankovic's great line that foundations love to talk about poverty, but not inequality, because the latter sounds to rich people like you want to take their money.

Of course it's not for any good reason, it's because "inequality" is being neoliberalized into meaning identity equality.
Those of us who want to focus on economic injustice lost "privilege" in the 1980s when neoliberalism and identitarianism were growing together. I love privilege's literal meaning, "private law", a perfect description of what wealth buys. But privilege theorists turned "privilege" from meaning what the elite has to meaning what most of the hoi polloi have. The word's roots have been chopped away; to privilege theorists, privilege now means "majority law".

The logic of identitarianism is antithetical to the logic of socialism. It's a meme that overwrites economic injustice to make it almost impossible to talk about economics alone, thereby continuing to divide the working class.

Consider this a footnote to The Intertwining of Islamism, Identitarianism, and Neoliberalism, and the Four Waves of Socialism.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Socialism of Fools, Part 2: The Logic of Antisemitism is the Logic of Identitarianism

Previously: The Socialism of Fools, Part 1: Antisemitism and Malcolm X, Derrick Bell, and Louis Farrakhan

“Antisemitism is the Socialism of fools.” —a saying of German social democrats at the end of the 19th century, attributed by August Bebel to Ferdinand Kronawetter

Third wave feminists and antiracists believe white Americans are privileged because they are on average wealthier than black and Hispanic Americans. This ignores the fact that Hindu and Jewish Americans are the richest religious groups in the US, which means that everything identitarians say about white Americans logically applies to American Jews.

Being a socialist, I reject this logic. People of every race, ethnicity, and gender can be found in the working class, and therefore I will do all I can to support all of them. This is why socialism is so prominent in the histories of feminism and civil rights.

But if you see power in terms of social identity, you should believe:
1. American antisemites aren't racist because "racism equals prejudice plus power". Jewish Americans as a group have far more economic and political power; therefore antisemites can't be racist.

2. Jewish Americans are racist because they grew up with Jewish American privilege.

3. When Jewish Americans lecture people in a condescending way, they're Jewsplaining. Antisemites can't antisemitesplain because antisemites don't have equivalent power.

4. Jewish Americans should shut up and listen when antisemites explain how Jewish privilege works in America.

5. American Jews who say not all Jews are rich or racist should be mocked as "special snowflakes" who think they're exceptions to the truth antisemites see.

6. American Jews who get upset when presented with examples of Jewish privilege should be mocked for their "Jewish tears".
This is the insane logic of people who accept superficial explanations. The reason Jewish Americans are disproportionately wealthy is simple: The first wave of Jewish immigrants were wealthy, which explains the disproportionate number of Jewish slaveowners—when slavery was part of our economy, slaveowners came from every group, including rich black women like the Widow C. Richards. The second wave of Jewish immigration brought many poor Jews who were fleeing persecution, but it also included wealthy ones, so Jewish immigrants in general continued to have more resources to start businesses than other groups.

But understanding the reasons for disproportionate ethnic wealth calls for understanding history and capitalism. Identitarians on the left and right are content with a shallow understanding of both.

The Socialism of Fools, Part 1: Antisemitism and Malcolm X, Derrick Bell, and Louis Farrakhan

Malcolm X accepted the antisemitism of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam when he was with them. Forward, a Yiddish newspaper, wrote in 1963:
When Malcolm X was asked whether the Black Muslims are anti-Semitic, he replied: “Many Jews have guilt feelings when people talk about ‘exploitation.’ This is because they know that they control 90 percent of the businesses in black communities, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And they benefit more from black buying power than blacks do from other parts of the white community. So they feel guilty about it.” He also complained that Jews can be found on the boards of such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but, he continued, “the same Jews won’t let you become president of B’nai B’rith, or any of their other organizations.” Although Malcolm X denied that his organization is anti-Semitic, his comments left many wondering if that is genuinely true.
When Malcolm X left NOI in 1964, his understanding of power changed. This story by Richard Sanders Rosenthal illustrates his new attitude toward Jews:
In 1963 or 1964, I attended a meeting of the Young Socialists Club at Wayne State University in Detroit at which Malcolm spoke. He sat down following his speech, and then the moderator, who had a Jewish name, opened the meeting to questions from the audience.

The first person the moderator recognized for a question was a black man who didn't have a question at all. Instead he launched into an anti-Semitic diatribe.

Malcolm listened to it for an extended moment, then, when its tenor was unmistakable and it was clear the harangue would (be permitted to) continue, he rose from his chair on the stage and ambled to the lectern.

This is what Malcolm said to the best of my recollection - and I'm certain my memory of what he said is very close to his actual words and very likely exact: ''I suspect our moderator today is Jewish and I won't put him in the position of silencing you. So I will. Now shut up and sit down.''
In his last years, Malcolm denounced Elijah Muhammad's racism and said,
" dearest friends have come to include all kinds -- some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists—some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!"
After Malcolm and Martin Luther King were killed, their universalism and their anti-capitalism fell out of favor. In the '80s, Critical Race Theory was developed by Derrick Bell and his Ivy League students, including Kimberlé Crenshaw, who gave the idea of "intersectionality" to third wave feminism. The Critical Race Theorists promoted ideas such as "all white people are racist because they grew up in a racist society" and "racism equals prejudice plus power, and since black people don't have power, they can't be racist."

This willingness to accept a superficial understanding of power and racism may explain why Derrick Bell admired the Nation of Islam's current leader, Louis Farrakhan. In 1992, Bell said,
Smart and super articulate, Minister Farrakhan is perhaps the best living example of a black man ready, willing and able to ‘tell it like it is’ regarding who is responsible for racism in this country. 
Farrakhan's ability to "tell it like it is" was profoundly antisemitic—he was Elijah Muhammad's heir in all ways. The Anti-Defamation League's Farrakhan In His Own Words includes this:
During his keynote address to 18,000 people at the NOI's 2014 Saviours' Day convention at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Farrakhan likened himself to auto magnate Henry Ford, who promoted anti-Semitic conspiracies in the 1920s in The Inter­na­tional Jew: the World’s Fore­most Prob­lem. Far­rakhan called Ford “a great man who was called an anti-Semite” and added, “I feel like I’m in good company.” In Part 2 of his Saviours’ Day address at Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Farrakhan received a standing ovation after telling his audience that “the Satanic Jews that control everything and mostly everybody, if they are your enemy, then you must be somebody.”
A few more examples of Farrakhan telling it like Derrick Bell thought it is "regarding who is responsible for racism in this country" from Louis Farrakhan | Southern Poverty Law Center:
"The Jews, a small handful, control the movement of this great nation, like a radar controls the movement of a great ship in the waters … the Jews got a stranglehold on the Congress."
— Louis Farrakhan, Saviour's Day speech, Chicago, Feb. 25, 1990

"And you do with me as is written, but remember that I have warned you that Allah will punish you. You are wicked deceivers of the American people. You have sucked their blood. You are not real Jews, those of you that are not real Jews. You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell. But I warn you in the name of Allah, you would be wise to leave me alone. But if you choose to crucify me, know that Allah will crucify you."
— Louis Farrakhan, Saviour's Day speech, Chicago, Feb. 25, 1996

"And the Christian right, with your blindness to that wicked state of Israel … can that be the holy land, and you have gay parades, and want to permit to have a gay parade in Jerusalem when no prophet ever sanctioned that behavior. How can that be the Israel, how can that be Jerusalem with secular people running the holy land when it should be the holy people running the holy land. That land is gonna be cleansed with blood!"
— Louis Farrakhan, Saviour's Day speech, Chicago, Feb. 26, 2006

"We can now present to our people and the world a true, undeniable record of the relationship between Blacks and Jews from their own mouths and pens. These scholars, Rabbis and historians [that Nation of Islam researchers studied] have given to us an undeniable record of Jewish anti-Black behavior, starting with the horror of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, plantation slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, the labor movement of the North and South, the unions and the misuse of our people that continues to this very moment."
— Letter sent by Louis Farrakahn to Jewish leaders and the Southern Poverty Law Center, June 24, 2010.

“Osama Bin Laden didn’t destroy the Twin Towers. that was a false flag operation to take the world’s attention away from the great disunity in America after George W. Bush stole the election.”
—Louis Farrakhan “The Final Call” March 15, 2016
Related: The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism, or Derrick Bell and Critical Race Theory, Where Racism and Anti-Racism Intersect

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Intertwining of Islamism, Identitarianism, and Neoliberalism, and the Four Waves of Socialism

After writing Naming the four waves of fighting racism and sexism, I'm thinking a little more about the '80s and early '90s when it seemed capitalism had defeated socialism. Three developments took off then:

Islamism's first major triumph came when Reagan helped the mujahideen overthrow the socialist government of Afghanistan that had granted equal rights to women and promoted universal education. Bin Laden took what he learned with the mujahideen to create Al Qaeda and thereby established the dominant model for opposing western imperialism in the Middle East.

Neoliberalism took baby steps in the '70s under Carter, but its right wing, neoconservatism, flourished under Reagan. The New Democrats of the Democratic Party answered neoconservatism with neoliberalism, agreeing that taxes on the rich should continue to be lowered and public services should continue to be cut.

Identitarianism took off in the '80s with the writings of black Ivy League academics like Derrick Bell and the Critical Race Theory crowd who wanted to fight racism without criticizing capitalism like King and Malcolm X. Kimberle Crenshaw brought what she had learned from CRT into feminism under the rubric of intersectionality.

What united all three was the belief that socialism had failed. For Democrats, that meant moving to the right and helping to weaken the public sector. For Middle Eastern rebels, that meant embracing Islamism as the opposition to capitalism. And for left-identitarians, that meant explaining racism and sexism as forms of human weakness and adopting the Catholic concept of social justice in which the benevolent rich are expected to aid the penitent poor.

The resurgence of socialism has me wondering which socialist wave we're in. I'll tentatively propose these:

First wave socialism runs from Fourier to the Russian Revolution. Call it the age of Theoretical Socialism.

Second wave socialism runs up to China's economic reforms in the late '70s and the dissolution of the USSR in '91. Call it the age of Authoritarian Socialism.

Third wave socialism is the main current model. I'm tempted to call it Capitalist Socialism because it's a very capitalist-friendly version of socialism that has produced billionaires in China. Maybe it's Neoliberal Socialism.

But I see signs of a fourth wave. It may finally be the democratic socialism that Marx first imagined, and Eugene Debs and George Orwell promoted, and Bernie Sanders supports. I hope I live to see it.

Related: "Privilege" has been neoliberalized and "inequality" is next

Naming the four waves of fighting racism and sexism

It's easy to discuss the first three waves of feminism because the movement has had a single name since Charles Fourier coined the word in 1837. Feminists argue about whether there's a fourth wave of feminism—as you'll see below, I believe there is.

Opposing racism hasn't had one name. The first wave in the US was generally discussed as abolition or equal rights; the second, as civil rights, and the third, as antiracism. For convenience's sake, I will use "antiracism" to parallel "feminism", but remember it's ahistorical: the Oxford English Dictionary says the word first appeared in 1938, and it was almost never used before 1985, and it's less popular now than it was. Properly, it's the name of the third wave only.

1. Separate but equal.

First wave feminism and antiracism culminated in voting and property rights, but the law let the worlds of men and white people remain segregated. Employers could pay workers less because of their social identity, and businesses could treat customers worse.

2. Integration, or civil rights.

Second wave feminism and antiracism fought to end the impossible goal of "separate but equal" by ending unfair treatment in the work place, the market place, and schools.

3. Identitarianism, or social justice.

Third wave feminism and antiracism saw economic differences persist despite the victories of the first and second waves. Second-wave champions like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X blamed capitalism for that, but identitarians believed human nature was responsible. Much of their rhetoric, such as the idea that racism is America's original sin, came from churches, as did the religious concept of social justice.

4. Democratic socialism, or economic justice.

Democratic socialist feminists and antiracists see that social equality and economic equality cannot be separated, and that politicians' economic policies matter more than their social identity. The clash between the third and fourth waves is being played out now in the Democratic Party, as Clinton supporters from the third wave compete with Sanders supporters from the fourth. Clinton won the primary battle, and we won't know until the end of the month whether her supporters will win the battle for the leadership of the Democratic Party, but we know who will ultimately win: More young people voted for Bernie Sanders than Trump and Clinton combined — by a lot.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Puttin' People on the Moon—an alt-country take on Whitey on the Moon

Just got email pointing out Drive By Trucker's "Puttin' People on the Moon" is a white version of "Whitey on the Moon".


Mary Alice had a baby and he looked just like I did
We got married on a Monday and I been working ever since
Every week down at the Ford Plant but now they say they're shutting down
God damned Reagan in the White House and no one there gives a damn

Double Digit unemployment, TVA be shutting soon
While over there in Huntsville, They puttin' people on the moon

So I took to runnin' numbers for this man I used to know
And I sell a few narcotics and I sell a little blow
I ain't getting rich now but I'm gettin' more than by
It's really tough to make a living but a man just got to try

If I died in Colbert County, Would it make the evening news?
They too busy blowin' rockets, Puttin' people on the moon

Mary Alice quit askin' why I do the things I do
I ain't sayin' that she likes it, but what else I'm gonna do?
If I could solve the world's problems I'd probably start with hers and mine
But they can put a man on the moon
And I'm stuck in Muscle Shoals just barely scraping by

Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here
Seems everyone I know is gettin' cancer every year
And we can't afford no insurance, I been 10 years unemployed
So she didn't get no chemo so our lives was destroyed
And nothin' ever changes, the cemetery gets more full
And now over there in Huntsville, even NASA's shut down too

Another Joker in the White House, said a change was comin' round
But I'm still workin' at The Wal Mart and Mary Alice, in the ground
And all them politicians, they all lyin' sacks of shit
They say better days upon us but I'm sucking left hind tit
And the preacher on the TV says it ain't too late for me
But I bet he drives a Cadillac and I'm broke with some hungry mouths to feed

I wish I'z still an outlaw, was a better way of life
I could clothe and feed my family still have time to love my pretty wife
And if you say I'm being punished. Ain't he got better things to do?
Turnin' mountains into oceans Puttin' people on the moon

Turnin' mountains into oceans Puttin' people on the moon

Written by Patterson Hood • Copyright © The Bicycle Music Company

Friday, February 3, 2017

How to tell someone's parroting what they read about King's Birmingham Jail letter

Some people—call them race reductionists or identitarians as you please—misuse Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail in three ways. None are supported by the text, but all are repeated countlessly in their community.


Some claim King was criticizing white moderates. That misses this part of the letter:
...Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security ... have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses.
Many black people today fall into that category. They fail to see that everything King did about race was grounded in class. His Dream speech was given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was killed while supporting the Memphis Sanitation Strike. When he was killed, he was planning a Poor People's Campaign to demand an end to poverty. In support of his preferred solution, Basic Income, he said,
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.

Some claim King excused violence. In Don’t criticize Black Lives Matter for provoking violence. The civil rights movement did, too, Simone Sebastian* cites the Birmingham Letter and fails to see the difference between facing violence and instigating it. In that letter, King talks repeatedly about the importance of nonviolent resistance. He talks about the preparation:
We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" and "Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?"
He talks about the purpose of nonviolence:
...we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
He never excuses violence. He only points out that it's a natural consequence of oppression:
If [the Negro's] repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, "Get rid of your discontent." But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

 Some claim King rejected "tone-policing", the idea that speakers should be civil. But the letter is a model of civility. In the first paragraph, he tells his critics,
...since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth...
That sets the style for the entire letter: it is simultaneously forceful and respectful. In it, King makes his attitude clear:
...the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?
An extremist for love and justice has to treat everyone with love while demanding justice.

* Simone Sebastian manages to misrepresent both King and Malcolm X, who she alludes to when she mentions "the by-any-means-necessary grit of the people who ultimately made American lives better". Malcolm said, "We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary." But he gave a context: "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." Because the second half of that is such strong support for self-defense, many people miss his advice on how to behave around people who have not put a hand on you.

Whitey on the Moon (Things identitarians miss)

"Whitey on the Moon" is a great song that's often mentioned when talking about race in the '60s.

But the verses could have been sung by a poor white cracker. The use of "Whitey" makes people assume the song is about race, but it's not about a middle-class black person's life. "Whitey" is just a personification of the rich as seen by a poor black in the city—if a white sang the same song, that word might be changed, but not one other word would be.
Whitey on the Moon:

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey's on the moon)

I can't pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still.
(while Whitey's on the moon)

The man jus' upped my rent las' night.
('cause Whitey's on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey's on the moon)

I wonder why he's uppi' me?
('cause Whitey's on the moon?)
I was already payin' 'im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin' my whole damn check,
Junkies makin' me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin' up,
An' as if all that shit wasn't enough

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an' arm began to swell.
(but Whitey's on the moon)

Was all that money I made las' year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain't no money here?
(Hm! Whitey's on the moon)
Y'know I jus' 'bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I'll sen' these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

Written by Gil Scott-Heron • Copyright © Carlin America Inc
ETA: Whitey on Mars: Is a mission to Mars morally defensible given today’s real needs? | Aeon Essays 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Liberty on the Loose

Liberty on the Loose
by Will Shetterly

She sets down her torch and book
Shrugs off her robe
Doffs her crown
Then looks
Not for long,
At its seven spikes.
Seven seas, seven continents
Where she is supposed to rule.
She sets the crown on her book and her robes
And, naked, jumps down from her pedestal.

She lands lightly, harming no one,
Yet people look up in awe
Some with wonder
Some with fear
She wades into the waters of America
She is walking toward its heart
The President has fired her,
But Liberty will not quit.

license: CC BY

If you blame Islam for Islamist terrorism....

...blame Judaism for the Deir Yassin massacre and the bombing of the King David Hotel.

...blame Buddhism for massacres of the Rohingya.

...blame Hinduism for massacres of Muslims.

...blame Christianity for massacres of American Indians.

...blame American Indian religions for massacres by American Indians.

...blame Protestantism for the conquest of Ireland and the Great Irish Famine.

...blame Catholicism for IRA bombings.

...blame the Church of Latter-Day Saints for the Mountain Meadows massacre.

Beneath every war blamed on religion is a war for wealth and power.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

5. The Rebel Jesus - The Rebel Followers of the Rebel Jesus

The Bible says Jesus had a core group of twelve followers who were called apostles, a name that comes from the Greek word for messenger. The Gospels disagree on their names. The number twelve may not be meant literally—it may simply be meant to evoke the belief there were once twelve tribes of Israel—or some apostles may have been known by two names.

Where "brother" is used below, it may mean a literal brother, a relative such as a cousin, or a best friend.

The Zealot

Simon, called the Cananean by Mark and Matthew, and the Zealot by Luke, is not mentioned by John. Cananean comes from the Hebrew kanai which was translated into Greek as zelotes. The Zealots were zealously devoted to God in their desire to drive the Romans out of Judea. The historian Josephus says the Zealots became Judea's fourth major sect after Judas of Gamala led a rebellion against Rome at the time of the Judean census.

The Sicarius

Judas Iscariot is identified by John as the son of Simon Iscariot. His epithet suggests he was a member of the sicarii, radical Zealots whose name came from their sicas, sickle-like daggers that they hid in their robes and used to kill Romans and Judean collaborators.

Some writers insist Iscariot meant Judas came from Kerioth. They note that Josephus says the sicarii appeared while Felix governed Judea, twenty years after the Gospels say Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death.

But two better explanations exist. Josephus may be wrong. If so, the sicarii were less active before Felix's time and Josephus simply overlooked the earliest examples of Zealot assassinations. Or Josephus may be right. If so, early Christians may have identified the Zealot Judas, the sly betrayer of Jesus, with the sicarii, the most secretive and brutal of the Zealots. Then, a decade or two later, Mark recorded what he knew using the epithet for Judas that his readers would recognize.

The outlaw followers of the executed Baptist
Simon Baryona is best known as Peter, the Greek translation of the Aramaic name, Cephas, that Jesus gave him. Both Peter and Cephas mean "rock". Peter was a married fisherman in the town of Bethsaida, though we do not know if his wife died or he left her. (Yes, it is odd that for the last thousand years, celibate Catholics Popes claim they follow Peter's tradition.) Peter's death is not recorded in the Bible. Early Christians believed he died the rebel's death of crucifixion.

Jesus calls Peter baryona Matthew's Gospel. Traditional Christians say this means Peter was a son of Jonah, but baryona or biryona is the Aramaic word for outlaw or ruffian—in the Talmud, the Zealots are called biryonim.

Peter's brother Andrew was also believed to have died the rebel's death of crucifixion. The Gospel of John says Andrew was a student of the Baptist's who recognized Jesus as a messiah and introduced him to his brother.

The Sons of Thunder

James, son of Zebedee, is called one of the Boanerges. Strong's Concordance says that's an Aramaic term from bēn ("sons") and regesh ("of thunder, tumult"). James is the only apostle whose death is recorded in the Bible—in Acts, Rome's agent Herod Agrippa has James killed with a sword.

The other Son of Thunder is John, James's brother, the only disciple believed to have died of old age.

Who were the Sons of Thunder? Thunder was the voice of God, so Sons of Thunder were Sons of God who opposed the Romans with their many gods.

The tax collector and five others

Whether the remaining six apostles were associated with rebellion, the Bible doesn't suggest. They were Philip, Thomas the Twin, Bartholomew who is named in three Gospels and may be Nathanael to John, James the son of Alphaeus who is not mentioned by John, Thaddeus who appears in Matthew and Mark and may be Jude to Luke and John, and Matthew the tax collector who is not mentioned by John.

But Matthew's former job gives him a whiff of rebel—he went from serving Rome to serving the rebel that Rome would kill.

Friday, January 27, 2017

4. The Rebel Jesus - Before the Rebel Jesus, the Rebel John

The story of one rebel starts with the end of another, John the Baptist. His title means he baptized people, washing away their sins in a ritual bath.

Mark starts his story by telling about the Baptist living in the country near the Jordan River. He wears simple clothes and eats simple food. Many people come to hear him teach and be cleansed of sin. John washes Jesus, and then Jesus goes into the desert to meditate.

John also starts his story by telling about John the Baptist. Rich Judeans send priests and Temple guards to John, demanding to know who he is and what he is doing.

John answers by quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

That's a rebel’s answer, a cry that the maker of the universe has declared the current order is wrong and must be set right.

Matthew starts his story with Jesus's birth, but before Matthew tells about the adult Jesus, he tells about crowds going to the Baptist. Among them are Sadducees and Pharisees. The Baptist calls them “children of vipers” and demands they change their ways.

That's a rebel’s answer, a rejection of the elite who prey on Palestine's people like snakes.

Luke also starts his story with Jesus's birth, but Luke links Jesus and John before either is born. Luke says the pregnant Mary goes to stay with her pregnant relative Elizabeth. When Elizabeth sees Mary, the unborn John leaps in her womb to acknowledge that Jesus in Mary's womb is a miraculous child. In Luke's story, John is only six months older than Jesus, but, as in the other gospels, John is still the first to become famous, and Jesus goes to him to be washed.

Luke tells what the Baptist teaches.

The crowd asks, "What should we do?"

John answers, "If you have two shirts, give one to someone who has none. If you have food, do the same."

A tax collector asks, "What should we do?"

John answers, "Take no more from people than you're supposed to."

A soldier asks, "What should we do?"

John answers, "Don’t take bribes. Don’t accuse people of things they haven’t done. Be content with your pay."

Telling the rich to share equally?

Telling their servants, the tax collectors and soldiers, to be honest?

That's a rebel’s answer, an accusation that the current social order is not just.

The Baptist’s teachings, his isolation from Judean society, and his criticism of Judea’s two largest sects imply he was a member of the third, the Essenes. Only one detail argues against that. Matthew says John lived on locusts and honey. If so, he was an unusual Essene because Essenes were vegetarians.

But the oldest copies of Matthew are in Greek, and the Greek word for locusts, akris, is very close to the Greek word for flatbread, egkris. What John ate may have been misspelled in an early manuscript and faithfully copied ever since.

Or perhaps John's group of Essenes were not strict vegetarians.

This we know: The Baptist's teachings made poor people love him and rich people fear him. He lived by the Jordan in Perea, where Rome's servant was Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Perea and Galilee. Antipas married Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip, and the Bible says John called that incest.

Insulted, Herodias asks Antipas to kill John. In Mark's story, Antipas refuses because he believes John is a good and holy man. In Matthew's story, Antipas refuses because he is afraid killing John will spark a rebellion.

Then Herodias's daughter, Salome, dances at a feast. Antipas is so pleased that he tells her, "Whatever you ask, I'll give you, up to half of my kingdom."

Salome asks her mother, "What shall I ask?"

Herodias replies, "The head of John the Baptist."

Antipas is not willing to go back on his word in front of his guests, so the Baptist’s head is given to Salome on a platter.

Josephus tells a simpler story. He says Antipas was afraid the Baptist would raise a rebellion. He had John imprisoned at Macherus near the Jordan River, then killed.

Some of John's students went with Jesus. Others stayed true to John and his teaching. Today, the Baptist is revered by Mandaeans, a gnostic sect numbering about 70,000 people worldwide. They call Jesus an apostate. Considering how Jesus's path diverged from John's, that's understandable. The gospel writers are reluctant to say why Jesus was washed by John like all who went to went to hear him, but the Mandaeans say clearly that Jesus was a student of John's who went his own way.

What Jesus did when he was young and why he felt he needed to be washed by John, the Bible does not suggest. Mark, whose gospel is the oldest in the Bible, tells his story without explanations:
In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
In Mark's story, Jesus is not called God's son until John washes him. The later gospel writers were clearly troubled by what that implied. That Jesus was washed by John must have been too well known for the writers to omit, so they said Jesus was washed by John to fulfill a prophecy. That was enough of an answer for them. They never asked why one son of Abba needed to be washed by another before he could do what God expected.

All four gospels make one thing clear: Jesus began under the influence of a man who died a rebel's death, killed by Rome's approved ruler for criticizing the ways of the rich.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

3. The Rebel Jesus - The Childhood and Appearance of the Son of the Father

Matthew says when Jesus was twelve, he and his family went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Joseph and Mary began to go home, then realized Jesus was not with them. They spent days hunting for their missing son. They found him in the Temple courtyard, sitting with the religious teachers.

The Aramaic word for father, Abba, was a common name for God. Jews still use it when they recite the kaddish, the traditional hymn of praises. The Bible mentions a rebel named Barabbas—Bar Abba is Aramaic for “son of Father.” The Essenes called themselves sons of God. When Judean rebels used the term, it separated them from the Romans who worshiped many gods.

The Bible does not say what Jesus looked like. Being the son of a Palestinian woman, he would have had dark skin and dark hair.

The Bible does not say how he dressed or wore his hair. In Mark’s Gospel, he’s called a tekton, a builder, and in Matthew, the son of a builder. His hands would have been hard from labor. He may have cut his hair short in the Greek and Roman fashion like most Judeans of the time.

But Palestine had holy men called nazirites who let their hair grow long. Some took vows to live as nazirites for a period of time. Some, like the Bible's Samson, lived as nazirites their entire lives.
The Bible says Jesus was called the Nazarene because he came from Nazareth. But early Christian writers may have failed to understand that he was a Nazirite, a long-haired son of God. Or he may have been both a Nazirite and a man from Nazareth.
Long hair did more than identify a holy man in Palestine. It showed the world he rejected the ways of Rome.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2. The Rebel Jesus - Two Stories of One Birth

Matthew's Birth Story

The Gospel of Matthew says the life of Jesus begins while King Herod rules Judea.

In Matthew’s story, Joseph the son of Jacob lives in Judea in the town of Bethlehem. He learns his wife Mary is already pregnant when she comes to live with him. Wondering if he should send her away, he goes to sleep. When he wakes, he decides to keep her and raise the child as his own.

After Jesus is born, three priests come from the Parthian Empire and give the baby presents of gold and rare perfumes. They say he will be the king of the Jews.

King Herod the Great hears about this. Believing the boy may be a threat to his rule, Herod sends soldiers to kill every boy in Bethlehem who is two years old or younger.

Joseph and his family flee to Egypt. When they hear Herod is dead and his son Archelaus rules Judea in his place, Joseph wants to go to home but fears Herod’s son is a danger to Jesus. So Joseph settles in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Luke's Birth Story

The Gospel of Luke says the story of Jesus begins when Quirinius orders everyone to go to their family homes to be counted in a census.

In Luke’s story, Joseph the son of Heli lives in Galilee in the town of Nazareth. He takes his pregnant wife Mary on the long trip south into Judea. When they arrive in Bethlehem, Jesus is born. A feeding trough is used for his bed.

Shepherds come to see the baby. They say he will be an anointed one, a savior of the Jews like King David in the Book of Samuel and the Emperor Cyrus in the Book of Isaiah.

Joseph and Mary take the child to the Temple at Jerusalem and dedicate him to God. A holy man and and a holy woman at the Temple each say the boy will grow up to do great things.

The problems with Matthew’s story?

1. When Judea was divided after Herod's death, his son Antipas became the tetrarch of the central region, which included Galilee.  If Herod's children were a threat to the baby, he would not be safe there.

2. The historian Josephus wrote about many horrible things Herod did, but Josephus does not mention babies being slaughtered in Bethlehem.

The problems with Luke’s story?

1. Luke says Herod was alive at the time of Quirinius's census, but the census was ordered ten years after Herod’s death, when Archelaus was banished for abusing his power and Rome installed the first of many Roman governors in the province of Judea.

2. Quirinius’s census, like any census, counted people where they lived. Having people travel to the place their families would be an unnecessary disruption in people's lives.

3. If the census had required people to travel to be counted, it only affected people in the province of Judea. No one would have had to travel from Galilee.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

1. The Rebel Jesus - One Thousand Years in a Land with Many Names

You know the end of this story.

The rebel goes to the city ruled by the empire’s governor. He attacks bankers. He is arrested. The rich decide he must die. The governor sentences him to the traditional death for rebels, fastened to a stake called a crux in a public place where his suffering will tell passersby what happens to those who defy the empire.

How rebels die is a common story. I will not tell that part.
This is the story of the life of the rebel Jesus.

One Thousand Years in a Land with Many Names

Every story about a rebel is a story of a place and power. The place in this story is a strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Its neighbors are Egypt in the southwest, Arabia in the southeast, and Syria in the northeast. Egyptians called it Peleset. Assyrians called it Pilistu. The Greek historian Herodotus called it Palaistine. The Bible’s Hebrew writers called it Peleshet, and some English Bibles translate it as Philistia. Its common English name is Palestine.

Its history is a story of conquest and independence and conquest again. When its people called it Canaan, its city-states became vassals of Egypt. As Egypt grew weak, independent kingdoms grew again, including Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Archeology tells us they were small, but the Bible says they were great.

The Book of Samuel calls David, their most famous king, a messiah, a Hebrew word that translates into Greek as Christos. It means “an anointed one”, a person who has scented olive oil poured onto his hair by a priest to show he is God’s choice to lead the people.

The land was conquered by Assyria, then Babylon. Hebrew became a language for scholars. The people adopted the Aramaic that their conquerors spoke.

Babylon fell to Persia. The Persians believed in one god, Ahura Mazda, whose priests were called magi and whose prophet was Zoroaster. Persia’s Emperor Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, but the Book of Isaiah calls him a messiah because he let Judah’s exiled nobles return to Jerusalem and built a Temple so Judeans could worship the one god in their own way.

Persia’s empire fell to Alexander the Great. The Seleucid Empire brought Greek culture into many parts of Palestine. In the region that had been Judah and was now Judea, the Hasmonean dynasty ruled as vassals of the Seleucids until civil war weakened that empire. The Hasmoneans united Palestine to form an independent kingdom called Judea after its Judean rulers

Then Rome came.

Judea became a client state of the Roman Empire. The Hasmoneans rebelled with help from the Parthian Empire that had risen in the east. The Romans defeated them and installed a new vassal in Judea, King Herod the Great, who built forts and palaces and expanded the Temple of Jerusalem.

When Herod died, three rebellions broke out. Each leader claimed to be a messiah who would drive out the Romans. The largest revolt was in the region of Galilee. Rome crushed it, and two thousand people were crucified

The kingdom of Judea was divided among Herod’s children. Philip got the north. Salome got the southwestern coast. Herod Antipas got the center, including Galilee. Herod Archelaus got the south, including the original land of Judea.

Ten years later, Rome banished Archelaus for incompetence. The province of Judea was put directly under Rome’s control. The first of many Roman governors ordered a census to count and tax the Judeans. Rebels led by Judas the Galilean opposed it. To complete the census, the governor of Syria brought troops to restore peace, and so the census is remembered by his name as the census of Quirinius.

The Book of Acts of the Apostles says Judas the Galilean was killed and his followers scattered. His influence did not end with his death. The historian Josephus says Judea had three sects before that rebellion, and a fourth one after

Judea’s rich liked the Sadducees, whose  name means they were descended from Zadok, the first High Priest. Sadducees welcomed Greek and Roman customs.

Judea’s middle class liked the Pharisees, whose name means “the separated.” Pharisees rejected foreign ways.

Most Judeans liked the Essenes, whose name means “the holy”. Essenes were also called Ebionites, which means "the poor", because they lived simply in communes in the cities and the country, sharing all they had.

Josephus called Judas the Galilean the father of a fourth sect, the Zealots, who "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." In pursuit of their goal, Zealots killed Romans as well as the Judeans who worked with them.

Into this troubled world, the rebel Jesus was born.

cc by 3.0 Andrew c.